How To Feel Rich

Why does no one feel rich or even happy? That’s what Jeff Haden wants to know, given that the mega rich he knows complain about their situation. His examples of wealth are eye watering and yet each person in his examples feels that they still don’t have enough. If the very wealthy amongst us feel like this, where does that leave the rest of us? “Rich” it seems is a very elusive feeling.

But what is rich? Is it owning a mansion in a trendy suburb? Going on 5 star overseas holidays each year? Maybe it’s owning a yacht. Or having a net worth of at least $5 million as one survey suggests. Perhaps it’s never having to work again.

Jeff alludes to how impossible it is to feel rich, since us humans have a tendency to focus on what we don’t have. You can have a high income, but focus on how much you lose to tax. You can have a yacht and worry about how much it costs to run. You can have a Porsche and wish you had a Bugatti. Whatever that is…

While us mere mortals might convince ourselves that if we could afford a Porsche or a yacht, we would feel totally, unconditionally and deliriously rich, the reality is otherwise. After all, if you live in an industrialised country you might already be in the top 1% of world income. But that’s cold comfort when your friend is heading on another overseas odyssey, while you’re eating baked beans to save a house deposit.

Insatiable Desires

The human mind is insatiable, so when using stuff as the only measure of rich, there is always more to be had. I blame it (and everything) on our caveman brain. In the days when the necessities of life were not at all assured, more was always better. More berries? Yes, please. A new, better tool for defending against a saber tooth tiger attack? You bet! A warmer more comfortable home, I mean cave? Sign me up for the mortgage!

Unfortunately, our brains haven’t got the software update for 2016. In evolutionary psychology they say that you can take the person out of the Stone Age, not the Stone Age out of the person. In fact there is a little bit of Neanderthal in all of us.

Choosing how you feel

The trouble with the word “rich” is there’s no clear definition. Rich isn’t quantified in the dictionary, it’s defined by wishy washy terms such as ‘a great deal’, ‘plentiful’ and ‘abundant’. It’s a term that can’t be defined because being rich is relative and ultimately it’s just a feeling that isn’t actually determined by your net worth.

Right at this moment you can’t change how much you have, but you can reframe your situation. You can feel rich.

That doesn’t mean throwing away all ambition to improve your finances, or settling for a bad financial situation. It means looking for and acknowledging the abundance in your life right now. Regularly acknowledging the stuff that you normally take for granted shifts your focus to the things you have rather than the things you don’t.

Acknowledging this can make your life feel much more abundant in the here and now when you realise how much you already have in your life. And if you don’t believe me, try packing up everything you own and carrying it for a block or so.

Shift your focus this way and you will have found the real secret to feeling rich.

Pay attention to the positive

Starting a gratitude practice is easy and can be as simple or as formal as you find helpful. You could try a weekly journal, listing 5 things you’re grateful for or write each thought on a post-it note throughout the day. You could just share your thoughts with a friend or partner over dinner. I like to practise gratitude on the go, taking a few moments throughout the day to acknowledge the abundance in my life in any given moment.

I don’t own a yacht or a $5 million property portfolio, but through a regular gratitude practice I have learnt to feel rich. Today I have:

  • Grocery bags full of food I can’t wait to eat;
  • A warm house that’s keeping me dry and out of the rain;
  • Time to write this post while my baby naps instead of having to go to work.

What makes you feel rich?

Change without New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions. About half of us make them. Just 8% of people achieve them.

There’s no shortage of advice, much of it scientifically validated on how to set New Year’s resolutions that will stick. All you need to do is; keep it simple and have a purpose, make it specific and measurable, write it down, ask yourself to do it and then use an app to help.

Even ASIC gets in on the advice game. Easy. Done. We’re all set for a successful 2016!

Except I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I used to be a committed resolution maker. Some years I’d write a whole list, other times I’d make just one single commitment. Regardless of the strategy or the level of detail in my commitments, goal, the main consistent element each year was hope. Hope that at the strike of midnight on 1 January, I would change. My temporal landmark.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been in the 8%, although that’s not to say I haven’t succeeded in many of my resolutions. It’s just that the change that precipitated success rarely came at the strike of midnight. Success often never even came in the same year as the one I made the resolution in.

Achieving Goals Slowly

In my experience, change has always slowly crept up on me. Never has it announced itself through a grand entrance or at an allotted hour. While in my heart I knew the change that I wished for myself, firstly the time needed to be right. Whether that was because I had the time to focus on the issue or because I was ready to change, the time was critical.

At the right time, I would change my mindset. Maybe it was just a tiny shift. Something that was necessary to precipitate the first action. Mostly, it was about getting out of my own way. I started my exercise habit by finally acknowledging that it was okay to walk, I didn’t need to run. I started to meditate regularly when I allowed myself to take the time out of my morning to do it, ignoring the whisper in my mind telling me it was self-indulgent. I stopped feeling the need to possess everything I liked in the shop window when I started to believe that simply enjoying the moment of seeing it and appreciating it was the most valuable.

Finally free to take action, I generally would especially when my goals coincided with my priorities. I’d always stumble and fail, move erratically towards my goals and often revert to past behaviour. It would always take time, this lifestyle changing process. It’s always taken me much longer than 21 days to change a habit. Yet, change would still come.

One day I would turn around and realise I was no longer at the beginning. The goal that I had longed for had been achieved, I’d changed and my life was better for it. That’s when I stopped making New Year’s resolutions. Not because I’m finished; a perfect human being. I still have goals, my weaknesses still stop me in my tracks, but I make a point to take stock regularly and when I notice a desire for change I’ll ask myself if now is the right moment to do what’s needed.

And now, with the summery days, the quiet city and the holiday vibe in the air, it’s the time to enjoy this imperfect life, just as it is.

So here’s to a successful 2016, whenever success comes.

A Beautiful Life Can Be Frugal

Picnic while on holidays = Beautiful life

Not quite a luxury resort, but picnic while on holidays = Beautiful life

Frugal. What springs to mind when you hear that word? I think spinsters, darned stockings and a housekeeping money box. To me ‘frugal’ feels like is watching other people enjoy life’s luxuries while I eat a packed lunch consisting of soggy sandwiches and a semi-squashed banana.

I understand why my friends or anyone else doesn’t aspire to be frugal. Whether that means shopping at the discount supermarket or saying no to a night out. Even in my mind frugal seems cheap, plain and self-denying. And if you’re a billionaire and frugal, you’re just plain peculiar. Surely if you have it, you should spend it and if not, you dream of it.

In short, frugality seems like the opposite of the beautiful life.

A place of luxury

Once upon a time I would have described the beautiful life as luxurious, full of beautiful things and completely out of my reach. My vision of the beautiful life included stunning resorts, sensational style and fine dining. I would wistfully look at billboard ads of Kate Winslet sporting her jewel encrusted watch and think ‘if only…..’

Not that I couldn’t buy luxury or beauty, it was that I was, well, frugal and I would never let myself indulge in such extravagance when there was a future to save for. So while my definition of the beautiful life involved luxury and material possessions I felt like I was making do.

Time of My (Beautiful) Life

What I wanted was more time. Dreaming of afternoon picnics, trips to the beach and reading a book after a weekend breakfast, I thought if only I could finish this never ending renovation I would have the time to live a beautiful life!

Wait, what?

What did time have to do with the beautiful life? Wasn’t it all about money and the luxury it could buy?

Luxury = the good life. That’s what the marketing machine had always said. Yet if it was really about time rather than money, then maybe a frugal life could be a beautiful life. Meaning that the beautiful life was within my reach. This was one idea I had to test.

An Experiment in Good Living

The experiment started with a Friday evening picnic. We found a grassy spot by the river and watched the late afternoon joggers trot past. The ferry brought waves of commuters on their way home or to after work drinks. It was the first warm evening of the spring and couples lingered in the park while the setting sun lit up the river. Washing away the working week’s worries, I wondered if this was the beautiful life. I sure felt good and all it had cost was a bit of effort and organisation.

I still had to renovate on weekends, but rather than wishing I was at a café, I stopped rushing through breakfast and started paying attention to the birds that had come to feast in our garden. Again, it felt like this was a beautiful life, while costing me nothing.

The experiment continued. I thought more about how to spend my time in a way that would be consistent with the beautiful life. We made the effort to have micro-adventures on weeknights, a special breakfast every weekend and a regular weekend at the beach, staying at a free campsite we’d discovered. I finally got why growing up we’d never been allowed to watch TV during dinner

Frugal through and through, a special Friday night dinner still entailed nachos rather than crustaceans but felt like the beautiful life.

Best Things in Life

The experiment was a great success. Our finances were unchanged, yet I stopped wondering if I was missing out in life, if the key to a good life was winning the lotto as my friends often joked.

I still want to punch the person who said the best things in life a free. The saying has always seemed trite and annoying, but my experiment did prove that it’s true.

Even when the days are packed with obligations, life can feel more beautiful when you:

  • Take a moment out of life’s busyness to just take a deep breath and relax your shoulders
  • Give a good heartfelt hug
  • Savour the flavour of whatever is on your fork
  • See the joke in the annoying things that happen
  • Switch off the computer and go to bed

Beat procrastination and save money

I’m slowly getting through my bloated reading pile. At times it’s been so big that I’ve worried it would topple onto me during the night and I’d bleed to death from a thousand paper cuts. I’d be found, surrounded by glossy images of happy hikers, uncooked recipes and tips for growing a productive veggie garden. Not a good way to go.

In this week’s readings, an article caught my attention in an old edition of Choice Magazine. The good people at Choice want to show me how to get my budget back on track. While I’m not a fan of budgets, the infographics were seriously seductive and I’m always up for a good money tip.

$3105 What a daily $3.50 coffee and $10 lunch add up to each year*

While most of the advice related to standard financial literacy principles – and yes, coffee was mentioned – I liked their take on bills. It’s often easy to assume these are fixed costs, when in reality they present a great opportunity to save money without changing your habits. Well sort of. For example Choice suggests asking yourself if you actually use your extras health insurance. If not, do you really need it?

Avoid the ‘lazy tax’

Renewal notices are another example. By not shopping around for things like insurance you pay a ‘lazy tax’. Unfortunately, loyalty to your insurer doesn’t always pay off, with new customers often receiving more competitive premiums than the one printed on the renewal notice. Unless you do something about it.

The trouble is, when faced with the prospect of shopping around for car insurance quotes or reading a magazine in the evening, which would you choose? I think my choice is probably obvious – neither, I’d go for a walk! Unfortunately, I’ve found the closer a bill is to its due date, the more likely I am just to pay it, without shopping around. It doesn’t help one of my favourite quotes is “don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can put off until the day after”.

Ironically, just starting, not to mention finishing a task you find challenging or unenjoyable is actually a lot more satisfying than a more pleasurable activity like reading a magazine. In fact, given the buzz you get from doing the hard stuff, it’s remarkable that those irritating tasks often stay on our ‘to do’ list almost indefinitely. Or until the tax office calls.

Beating Procrastination

Procrastination can be a serious road block in saving money. It’s so easy to tell yourself you’ll feel more like comparing quotes tomorrow. Or it’s too difficult a task to face after a long day. But the end result is the same, you stand in the way of yourself and waste money.

What is the simplest way of beating procrastination? Here’s what I do.

First, I decide to do it. Saying ‘I should’ isn’t the same as ‘I will’.

Next, I decide when to do it. Monday evening after dinner or Saturday morning before getting into the garden. Doesn’t matter when, I just need to have a plan.

Finally, I take a deep breath in and just get started. That’s it. Just get started. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Once I start a task, it rarely seems as bad as I’d imagined. Sometimes I even start to enjoy it, even if it’s embarrassing to admit!

While I’ve never found that reviewing insurance policies gets easier or more enjoyable, at least the sense of self-satisfaction of getting the job done is just as good every time.

*Choice Magazine, March 2015