Life is too valuable to be ruled by a spreadsheet

Budgeting is something that sensible people do. Right?

Idiots (like me) just get by on a wing and a prayer, without really much of a plan for their money.

That’s something I’ve been wanting to change for some time, but something has never sat quite right with me about budgeting. And I think I’ve finally figured out what’s been niggling at me.

Traditional budgeting puts income first, before quality of life

The Money Coach says, “budgeting ensures that you will always have enough money for the things you need and the things that are important to you”. 

And yet, this idea isn’t what budgeting does, because budgeting starts by asking you to calculate your income first, and work from there.

In theory, it’s about creating balance:

But seeing as you’ve already worked out how much you have available, the only thing you can trade-off is what you need or what matters to you.

In reality, this way of budgeting is allowing your income to dictate your life:

It forgets that we don’t only spend money on things, we spend time on things too. And yet we don’t have any space in the traditional budget equation to recognise that we need to accumulate that time.

And this is total bullshit. Which is why we’re so used to hearing things like:

  • I’d like to spend more time with my kids, but I have to work
  • I’d like to get in shape, but I have to work
  • I’d like to meditate, but I have to work

Not only is it flawed in its logic, but it reduces our options to find balance, because it is saying that:

  1. You couldn’t do anything to increase that income, which – to be fair – can be very difficult and/or impossible, but also

  2. The option that seems even more crazy and impossible –  that maybe you could consider reducing the time you spend on generating income (work) so you have more time to do the things that matter to you

This way of budgeting never even looks at the income you need, it just looks at the income you have, and what you can do with it.

So you’re left with very few ‘levers’ to pull if you want to make changes.

What would it look like to shake this up?

If we accept that many of the things that matter to you cannot be bought, and that time is important to us too, then wouldn’t it make more sense to balance the equation between:

  1. The things you need and the things that matter to you
  2. The free time you need
  3. The income you need

Otherwise, by simply accepting that our income is fixed, we’re simply accepting that we’ll spend 40, 50, 60 hours of our week at work. 

We’re not even questioning it – it’s just the starting point for the budgeting process. The majority of your waking life is all wrapped up in the step: ‘calculate income’.

This means you’re accepting that the 40, 50, 60 hours a week you work are worth trading in for the money you earn – without having a clear plan of how you plan to spend it in the first place, or how it will help you get the life you want

In other words, you’re giving up significant amounts of time in your life for unspecified or vague reasons.

So what if budgeting genuinely balanced the life you want to lead with the free time and income you need to lead it? Wouldn’t that be powerful?

This is a topic I’m going to come back to, because I have a lot to still think about. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, too.

But right now, it’s 9 am in Madrid, it’s sunny, and I’m choosing to spend my time on something else right now. To be continued. 

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

We are all developing countries

Rising rates of depression and anxiety.

Politicians telling lies and undermining the free press.

Unprecedented levels of consumer waste and pollution.

People freezing to death in winter.

I’m not talking about some far-flung failed state. These points could describe the UK, US, China, and – frankly – probably any developed country in the world.

If this is what passes for a ‘developed country’, then what passes as ‘development’ is clearly failing us.

Separating countries into the ‘developed’ and the ‘developing’ is not only artificial, it is dangerous.

To call countries ‘developed nations’ implies that they have reached a point where development is ‘done’ 

Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

Can we really say that the way any country is working in 2020 reflects the pinnacle of possibility for the human race? Is there anywhere on the planet where people are universally able to live well, in ways that take care of the earth and each other’s well-being, too? 

Have humans really been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years so we could reach an end-point where Kylie Jenner can paint her face on Instagram and make a billion dollars?

Development? It’s done!

Is there really no higher we can aim?

In putting ourselves in the ‘developed country’ basket, we become lazy. We stop trying to reimagine things, and take them as ‘the way things are’. 

We assume that things we invented – for example, the stock exchange – aren’t good or bad, they simply are. We stop questioning where we’re going – for example, we accept that ‘economic growth is good’ as a universal truth, without asking our politicians what this economic growth will do for us.  

The arrogance of ignorance

We are marking ‘developing countries’ further down the imaginary continuum between ‘developing’ and ‘developed’. We are insinuating that there’s only one way to be truly developed – and it’s our way.

We imagine developed countries as ‘less than’ us – less advanced, somehow, but without being specific about what it is they are worse at. 

And yet, whilst developed countries can complain about developing countries such as Brazil or Ecuador chopping down rainforest, they are still the ones driving the need for the rainforest’s resources.

Not only does this false divide between developed/developing create goals for developing countries that won’t necessarily make life better for humans (something politicians rarely talk about these days), but the divide also insinuates that ‘developed’ countries have nothing to learn from developing countries. So they don’t look. And yet, in many of these countries, there is still more harmony between people and planet, lower rates of consumerism, and lower rates of depression.

It’s time we accepted that all countries are developing.

Are humans really such basic animals that they are guaranteed to live better, happier, more fulfilling lives because their country has a higher GDP? 

Of course not. 

We need to be taking a more holistic look at what makes life worth living, to understand whether we’re creating the conditions for humans to flourish to their highest potential.

Only if we ever reach that state can we truly say that a country is ‘developed’. 

Cover photo: Photo by Ev on Unsplash

What are ‘Enough Questions’?

We’d all love to find answers.

But then, most of the time, we find answers that don’t work for us.

“It said to meditate every day but it just doesn’t work with my five kids and two dogs!”

“I read that if I ate six small meals a day, I’d lose weight, but I didn’t!”

“I was told that budgeting was the way to success but I’m still broke!”

Looking for answers and calling it ‘self-help’ doesn’t make any sense.

You’re not helping yourself if someone’s telling you what to do. You’re just being told what to do, and hoping it’ll work. And just because the answers worked for someone, doesn’t mean they’ll work for you.

Self-help is putting the work in yourself.

So why not look for questions instead?

Let’s figure shit out together. Because I don’t have any answers anyway.

When I’ve learnt something, really learnt something, it’s generally because I’ve been asked a really good question and been able to draw my own conclusions. 

That’s why I think properly reflecting on good questions is so much more useful than answers.

But because I’m writing Exploring Enough for myself, I’m trying to ask questions to myself.

I’m calling them ‘Enough Questions’.

Instead of looking for answers, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for good questions to ask myself.

Questions that make think about what Enough looks like to me. Because, like life, what’s Enough for you isn’t fixed, it changes over time. And it’s not universal to everyone, it’s personal. 

There are so many questions we can be asking ourselves, and they aren’t rocket science. But in our busy lives, it’s rare that we stop to ask them. 

So I’ll be sharing ‘Enough Questions’ on my Facebook page and inviting others to share theirs, too.

Here are some that are on my mind, just for starters:

  • Why am I doing what I’m doing? 
  • Is that a good enough reason?
  • Really???
  • When was the last time I sat back and thought about my goals?
  • What really matters to me?

Do you have any ‘Enough Questions’ that help you reflect on what’s important?

Photo by Eunice Lituañas on Unsplash

Is Jeff Bezos really worth more than all the UK’s nurses?

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos earnings in one year:
£62,300,000,000 (Source)

Annual salary of all 300,000 NHS nurses combined:
£8,280,000,000 (Source)

That’s over seven times less money, shared between 299,999 more people.

One runs an online store. The others save lives.

Sources:

To pay all 300,000 nurses in the UK costs approx £8,195,700,000 – £8.2 billion – based on an average salary of £27,319 for 300000 nurses (Source: Glassdoor).

Bezos figures: Business Insider

It’s ok to be ‘money-driven’

“She’s chasing the money”

“He’s completely money-driven”

“They’re only in it for the cash”

As a society, we’re great at judging people for wanting to make money.

We talk about it in terms of displaying a lack of values. We insult them, directly or implicitly. These people are superficial. Shallow. Greedy.

We think of money-driven people as spending it all on fancy clothes, fast cars and big mansions. This is the most visible kind of rich person, so that’s what we associate with making money – a kind of vulgarity that’s created by their cash.

It can feel like a clash of values when we recognise our own desire to make more money.

When I take a long hard look at myself, I squirm when I realise that I work day-in, day-out to make more cash. It’s not the only reason I do what I do, but it’s the biggest driver – and it’s certainly the biggest driver on days where I don’t want to do it. Does that make me a money-grabber, too?

I guess it does – but it doesn’t mean I’m materialistic. In fact, I buy less stuff now than I have in years… probably since I was a kid. Not all people who want to make money are doing it for the shiny things in life.

Not being obsessed about money is a privilege that only the richest can afford.

Being focused on money means that you’re doing what you can to be able to stay alive in the society we’ve created. A society in which, if you run out of money, you’re fucked.

In cases like these, it’s driven by our desire for safety and security.

Being materialistic isn’t a reflection of how much money you want to earn. It’s a reflection of why you want to earn it.

So if you’re working hard to make money, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just be conscious of why you’re doing it.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Is “retail therapy” actually bad for us?

Two days ago, I shared a post about how living abroad changed my concept of what I needed to be happy.

The response I got back has been loud and clear – the enforced minimalism of lockdown has led to lots of people feeling the same way. 

My friend Lu said:

 “In the first week of lockdown I craved wandering around TK Maxx looking for random stuff I don’t need. Now I’ve got used to lockdown and loving spending time making things and seeing so much of my local area I’ve never seen before.”

She wasn’t alone. 

There was an element of missing shopping, but some people were finding more fulfilling ways to spend their time as a result. In fact, David said:

“Life is more relaxed. I’m being healthier and I do more for me and my wife.”

Here’s the science bit

Looking into this a bit more, I was surprised to find that scientists have actually been able to back up experiences like these with research.

In a study last year [1], they found that people who shop compulsively are actually less likely to achieve their life goals. As well as spending money you may or may not have, you’ve also spent time on it, and taken up mental energy. All of that you could have been investing in something more fulfilling – like David.

So why do we keep shopping if it’s not good for us?

There are many drivers for why people shop, and not all are bad. However, it’s important to realise that the human brain evolved to find acquiring things to be pleasurable because it helps us survive. Shelter, clothing, and food, for example. The problem comes when our brain can no longer differentiate between the pleasure caused by buying something we need and that caused by buying something we don’t. Over time, and to different degrees, our brains simply learn that getting things feels good.

If you’re shopping to feel good, rather than to acquire something you need, you’ll never be able to reach an endpoint where you’ve bought enough to be happy ever after. The relief you might feel is like scratching an insect bite – it’s temporary. Once the initial high subsides, whatever was getting you down is still there. And whilst you were shopping, what else could you have been doing?

But let’s be realistic.

I believe everything I’ve written, but I also try not to be too hard on myself. Sometimes life is just really hard, and sorting out my big issues is just too much to deal with. It’s much easier to temporarily feel good by buying stuff than it is to reprioritise my life and fix all the crap that’s getting me down. So I’m not stopping buying things altogether – I’m just being more conscious of how much I buy, and asking myself some questions when I do.

  • Do I really need this?
  • Really?
  • Or do I really need to sort something out?

So next time you feel like you need a bit of retail therapy, stop and think – do I really need this, or am I scratching an itch? Because if it’s the second, perhaps it’s time to find a better treatment for whatever’s bothering you.

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

References:

Müller, A., Brand, M., Claes, L., Demetrovics, Z., de Zwaan, M., Fernández-Aranda, F., Frost, R., Jimenez-Murcia, S., Lejoyeux, M., Steins-Loeber, S., Mitchell, J., Moulding, R., Nedeljkovic, M., Trotzke, P., Weinstein, A. and Kyrios, M., 2019. Buying-shopping disorder—is there enough evidence to support its inclusion in ICD-11?. CNS Spectrums, 24(04), pp.374-379.

How being forced to live with less changed my life

“Yeah, it’s a great property,” said my brother, Tim. “You know, as a starter home.”

I looked at the two-bedroom house and garden I’d recently bought in Manchester and thought, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I was in my late twenties, a first-time buyer, and this was a first step on the property ladder. A good buy, but a starter home.

I was on The Right Path™ – the path that British society sets out for us and tells us to be on. I had my home – which was to be the stepping stone to another. I could go out every weekend, buying a new outfit each time at an affordable price from some ‘fast-fashion’ brand. I could try a new cuisine every weekend, and once you’ve tried them all, someone will have invented a new ‘dining concept’.

It’s a path of accumulation, growth, and constant stimulation. 

A path of ‘property ladders’, with ‘starter homes’ that – in reality – would be perfectly enough for us until the day we die.

And then I left the UK. For South America.

The accidental minimalist 

It had been a long time coming. I’d been with my Ecuadorian partner for several years and I was dying for an adventure. We moved in 2015. 

The first time I went to the local store for groceries, I asked what kinds of cheeses they sold. “What kind?” the lady responded. “We just have cheese.” 

There was only one. And this was part of a bigger culture shock that kept on giving.

And it went further than the food. There were less clothes to choose from. Fashion wasn’t seasonal (in part because there are no seasons). There was less furniture to pick from. There were no night-time rollerblading UV-discos with gourmet cocktails and ‘dirty burgers’ – just a bar with drinks and music. How archaic. 

I loved the city, it was beautiful, but my options were limited. 

And I hated it.

Simplifying life can be complicated

“What the hell kind of country doesn’t sell cartons of orange juice?” I’d rage. 

And it didn’t end there. I’d buy clothes online, get them sent to my mum, and have her send them over via air mail. I’d ask for some of my favourite sweets and chocolates to be put in, while I was at it. I’d sit dreaming of an IKEA opening so I could get some decent-looking, cheap furniture. I’d enjoy going out dancing, but secretly look forward to being able to go out in a big city with more choice, a bigger club, with fancier lights and more fashionable people. 

Everything just seemed like such a pain. 

But slowly but surely, I started to get used to it. And eventually, to love it.

It turns out:

  • People make their own fresh juice because fruit is plentiful and delicious.
  • Because IKEA hadn’t got to Ecuador, there were still craftsmen on every street who would make furniture to your exact design without charging a lot of money.
  • It costs $5 to resole and recolour my favourite leather boots, and a dollar to fix my favourite backpack when it broke, so I didn’t need to keep buying new clothes as often as before.

I’d become more sustainable, buying locally and buying independently, eating seasonally and eating better. And, in the process, I’d become more satisfied with what I had.

By accident. 

In theory, I’d wanted all of this before – but confronted with my situation, my first feeling was that there was a lack of choice and a lack of convenience. Once I’d come round to it, something clicked in me. 

I’d realised that living on less was possible, and it was better for me and for the planet.

But it had taken forcibly removing my options for me to get there. 

And then, once I’d got used to it, all the options came back.

Coming full circle 

Fast forward four years, and life has brought me back to Europe. 

Now I’m in a city – Madrid – with a beating commercial heart. 

It’s a city full of those shops you only see in any Western country – you know, the ones that sell things that no-one needs, but for some reason people buy. Rubber cacti, a novelty carrot sharpener, a USB stick that looks like a piece of sushi.

So I’m back to where I started – with excess all around. 

The difference? Now I’m different. Now, I look back at the Adam who thought of the single biggest purchase he’d ever made as simply a stepping stone to another purchase, and I contemplate how warped our society has become.

But I can no longer rely on my surroundings to make me live with less. This is where Exploring Enough came from. 

It’s an exploration of how I can keep concentrating on what really matters, even in a world full of distractions. How I can maintain the calm I found by living with ‘enough’ instead of living to excess. It made me happier, and I want to maintain it. And hopefully by sharing my journey, it’ll help you find your ‘enough’, too.