I am often struck by how often people with a significant amount of wealth tell me that are incredibly stressed at work, exhausted, but they can’t stop working because they don’t have enough money to retire. I point out that of course they can retire, since 99% of all Americans will retire with far less financial wealth than they have amassed. They concur with that premise, but quickly note they don’t have enough money to retire and maintain their lifestyle.
I ask them what they maintaining their lifestyle means to them. For virtually all of them, it is about consumption. They are afraid of retiring and not being able to trade in their car every few years, stay at the luxury hotels to which they have grown accustom, or eat out whenever they want at virtually any restaurant in town. They don’t want to retire and experience a loss of freedom. They want to retire to a world where they can do what they want, when they want, and in the style they want. I totally understand. Nobody relishes the idea of being forced to cut back.
To me, lifestyle is about far more than consumption. It is about the style in which we live our lives, or said differently, the manner in which we spend our time. We live in a culture that often leads us to believe that money is our scarcest resource. We see ads that ask us if we know our “number.” We are deluged with marketing messages that indicate the key to happiness is driving luxury cars, taking extravagant vacations, or owning that beautiful second home. The truth, for virtually all of us, is that time, not money, is our scarcest resource. If we want to improve our lifestyle, we need to inquire if we are spending our time to enhance the quality of our life.
I recently met with a couple in their early 60’s. The husband was in a high paying, demanding job in an industry undergoing rapid change. He was exhausted, working 60+ hours a week, and felt like he was falling farther and farther behind. Early in the conversation, he lamented that the stress and pressure of his job was killing him. Although he and his wife had been good financial stewards and amassed several million dollars for retirement, his perception was he didn’t have nearly enough money to retire.
I asked the couple to consider two alternatives. In the first scenario, he continued on his current path working grueling hours in a stress-filled job for another five to ten years. He and his wife would continue to trade in their cars every three years, travel four weeks a year, enjoy high-end luxury vacations, spend thousands each year on clothes, and eat out whenever they want at Atlanta’s best restaurants.
In the second scenario, he would move to a less demanding and stressful job and take a fifty percent pay cut. He would work 40 hours a week doing what he loved, and he would have 20 newly found hours a week to spend time with family and friends, explore new interests and passions, and volunteer in his community. He and his wife would still travel four weeks a year, but they would travel domestically more often than internationally. When they travel, they would stay in bed and breakfasts and nice, but not luxurious hotels. Instead of trading in their cars every three years, they would hold onto their cars for about seven years.
In your opinion, which scenario offers this couple the better lifestyle? I believe the second scenario offers this couple a lifestyle that better fits their values. Although they would have to give up some of life’s luxuries, they would be choosing a healthier, less stressed lifestyle that enables them to spend more time together, more time developing close satisfying relationships, and more opportunities to pursue their passions and make a meaningful positive difference in their community. Life doesn’t get much better than that.