Kin Cheung/AP/File
In this April 2010 file photo, a man walks past a collage of copies of Chinese RMB, U.S. dollar and other foreign bills at a money exchange store in Hong Kong. Hamm writes of his experience chasing wealth at the expense of everything else he valued in his life.

Living below your means

We sacrifice too much in pursuit of financial success, Hamm argues. Sometimes more money means more problems.

Jennifer writes in:

I really appreciate the articles you write on frugality. My husband and I are very glad to have simple jobs that we can just walk away from at the end of the day without stress. We don’t make a ton of money, but we have everything we need and we don’t have the stressful situations that many of your readers encounter. More money equals more problems.

If you actually look into research on the topic, making more than $25,000 a year barely makes you any happier at all. A jump from $25K to $55K in annual salary matches with only a 9% increase in happiness. Beyond that, once you get to $75K and above, happiness actually starts to decline with more income.

This matches almost exactly what Jennifer is saying. However, I don’t fully agree with the idea that more money equals more problems. Instead, I’d argue that the quest for more money at the expense of other aspects of life equals more problems.

Step back and ask yourself what you have to sacrifice to make a six figure salary. For most people, building a career where they earn a high salary involves quite a lot of sacrifice, mostly in the form of time and energy.

I saw this in my own life. I missed my oldest son’s first steps because I was away at a work conference. I remember calling my children on the phone and hearing my son ask when daddy was going to be home again. I remember weekends where I was unable to spend time wih guests because there was some career-related task that was absolutely urgent and had to be resolved.

There were many evenings when I would come home and all I would have the energy to do is kick back on the couch and either play a video game or watch television for a few hours. I remember many mornings where I’d tell myself that I was going to do something worthwhile that evening, but when I would arrive home from work, I was just too drained to do it.

When I started The Simple Dollar, it got worse. Most of late 2006 to mid 2008 is a blur to me, because I spent that time giving everything I had to what amounted to two full time jobs (and more).

I was making a good deal of money at the time, but I was sacrificing almost everything else I valued in my life to earn that money.

My relationship with my kids was damaged. My relationship with my wife was damaged. My circle of friends shrunk significantly. Most of my hobbies withered on the vine. I was sick very regularly.

Those costs weren’t due to having money. They were due to the effort put into acquiring it.

It wasn’t worth it.

I would far rather have a career that didn’t damage important aspects of my life and paid poorly than a career that paid me well but ran me through the ringer.

“Why not just stop?” It seems like an easy way out of the situation, doesn’t it? The problem is that many people, once they start earning a significant salary, make financial choices that lock them into that salary. They get under a giant mortgage, multiple car loans, student loans, and credit card debt. They value their perception of success in the community and they can’t or won’t let go of it.

It’s not a matter of more money bringing more problems. It’s the chasing of more money – and the bad choices that chase sometimes leads to – that brings about the problems.

The solution? Live below your means. Don’t be the person who is bleeding to get by in a rich neighborhood. Be in a less affluent neighborhood and be secure with your bank account. Don’t be the person who has to have the new everything. Instead, enjoy having things that you enjoy and have time to enjoy.

Less money, less problems.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Living below your means
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today