Saturday, June 5, 2010
Living Happily Within Your Means
A recent newspaper article read:
Happy people not too fussed about their pay.
Keeping up with the Joneses makes you miserable. An academic study has found that workers who compare their salaries to those of friends and family are less happy than those who do not.
The researchers questioned 19,000 people from 18 countries and cross-checked frequency of income comparison with happiness and found ‘those who compare more are less happy. There is a negative and significant correlation between comparison intensity and subjective happiness’.
This was published in Britain’s Economic Journal. I do wonder about studies sometimes but I agree with this one.
Since starting our own business just under six years ago, the salaries of my husband and I are a fraction of what they used to be. We decided to pay ourselves what we needed to live, and put the rest back into the business. Not that we used to be huge earners, but to slide back down the salary ladder feels ‘interesting’. You wonder what you are doing it for (‘it’ being self-employed).
The funny thing is, I have never been so happy and so content in my life. And I feel wealthier than I ever have. Our savings are steadily climbing, even on our small income. And while we’re not millionaires with our business yet, we are building up a business which has progressed well in these tough economic times.
I think one of the main things is that we are as frugal at work as we are at home and are happy and content with what we have. Just as we sit on elderly sofas at home which have travelled with me through my first marriage and shared accommodation, we have second-hand desks and chairs at work. These are not in public areas, so it doesn’t matter if they aren’t fancy, new and matching, as long they do the job.
In the city where we live, a city of 1.3 million people, a lot of people keep up with the Joneses. My husband and I don’t. We live a small-town life in a big city. I came from a provincial village (population 8,500). While my husband grew up in the place we live in, he is very down to earth and not too ‘city’ (just city enough perhaps).
Most of our friends and family earn a lot more than us and have all the gadgets and trinkets – frequent holidays to Thailand and Fiji, second homes at the beach, jet-skis, boats and meals out often.
Our friends who have children mostly put them in day-care (because you need two jobs to survive the big mortgage and city lifestyle). I sound judgemental I know, but there is no way I would put a six month old in the care of strangers if I had a choice, no matter how trained they were. No one cares about your child the way you do.
A friend who called in today complained about their 14-month old’s day-care centre not putting her down for her 2½ hour sleep which she needed (the child was running riot at 5pm). ‘She would be lucky to get half an hour there’ the mother said. My mind was spinning. Why would you do this? I wanted to say.
This is a family who chose to buy a home on a 100% mortgage, knowing they were planning to try for a baby a year or two later, and who regularly travel and eat out. They have chosen the two-income lifestyle. For the most part they seem happy, but I also know they have financial stress. They think it’s funny and quite novel that we are so frugal (and we don’t trumpet it, if they knew half of what we do!).
Another couple we know, the wife complains every time we see her about how hard things are, how they can't afford anything. And they have more than a lot of people (including us), she just can't see it. It's actually to the point that we don't make plans to see them, she's just too depressing to be around!
And from what I’ve read, it is like this in Europe and particularly France. Young couples starting out don’t feel the need to have everything new, rather they have items gifted to them from their family. And they value serenity, happiness and experiences over possessions and presenting a fancy front.
I didn’t get any old family antiques, but while we rent, my husband and I use what we have. Because of investing in our business we have yet to buy a home just yet. Everything we have is in the style we like, it’s just... older. I am really, really looking forward to the day we can purchase new sofas – the ones I have on my list are like Coco Chanel’s ones in her Ritz Paris apartment – but I actually saw them in Frasier Crane’s place on the tv show.
We have also talked about buying the best bed we can, in about three years. After staying in fancy hotels now and then, I can still remember the amazing night’s sleep I got on a bed which was like lying on a cloud (firm, yet cloud-like, heavenly in fact). Looking forward to these things is half the fun, and we certainly aren’t running out tomorrow to put these things on credit. When we buy them they will be paid for with savings.
I really do believe that the less you want, the happier you are. I’ve proved it to myself.