Knowing When You Have Enough

Knowing When You Have Enough

Donovan Sanchez, CFP®


“My love, how much money will be enough for us?”

I asked this question to my wife rather seriously some time ago.

Her reply: “The amount that we have right now.”

To be honest, her reply took me off guard. It highlights one of the reasons why I love my wife, but it also got me thinking.

Beware the hedonic treadmill.
In How To Think About MoneyJonathan Clements defines the “hedonic treadmill” or “hedonic adaptation” in this way: “We aspire to get that next promotion and, initially, we are thrilled when the promotion comes through. But all too quickly, we adapt to our improved circumstances, we take the new job for granted and soon we’re hankering after something else.” (21)

There are always more things to buy, and new things to have. But after our initial needs are met, we should question whether those extra purchases are going to bring us enduring happiness.

A few years ago I listened to a very perceptive interview between James Osborne and Michael Kitces. One of the reasons why the conversation was so interesting is that James, unlike many entrepreneurs, took a different approach when he started his business. He attempted to identify what mattered to him, and then created a business to allow him to live out a version of success that he defined on his own terms.

During their conversation, James talked about something that he calls “upgrade-itis.” He relates it to cycling, but the argument can be applied to practically anything. There is always going to be something newer, prettier, or better. But as so many of us have learned, purchasing that newer, prettier, or better something might not matter all that much soon after we obtain it.

But it will be hard for you to maintain that sort of perspective. One of the reasons it’s so tough is that there are a lot of voices telling you what is important, and what you need. Think about all the information that you digest on a daily basis. So much information that you probably don’t have time to really process it—to really think about it.

So no wonder why so many of us blindly chase after things that don’t really make us happy, and that distract us from living our lives intentionally.

The importance of defining “enough.”
Many are familiar with the movie Free Solo in which Alex Honnold scaled El Capitan in Yosemite without a rope. To be clear, I’m certainly not advocating that his risk-taking endeavors be emulated. But when I saw him living out of his van, watched him eat straight from a frying pan with a spatula, and do his laundry with his feet while taking a shower, it got me thinking. We really don’t need all that much to cover our needs.

To avoid getting caught up in life’s distractions, it is important to define what is “enough” for you. Your value to society and those around you is not dependent on the fact that you earn more or less than your neighbor. This is good news because there will always be people making more money than you are. But if you don’t define “enough,”, you might find that you pass through a lot of life chasing after the wrong things.

And it won’t necessarily be easy to define “enough” at first. You will need something to record your thoughts so that you can capture them as they come—because they will pop into your mind when you least expect it. I have a simple document where I capture my ideas and organize them.

But simply capturing your thoughts won’t be sufficient because over time you will forget what “enough” means to you, and what you want your life to be like. For that reason you will need to schedule time on a regular basis (I like to shoot for every week) to read this document. Consider it your VISION for what you want life to be like. Add thoughts to your document when they come to your mind so that the document lives and evolves over time.

You don’t have to know what your ideal life is from the beginning. You’ll learn what it is as you go—but you do need something to remind you on a regular basis what you actually care about. Otherwise you’ll find yourself chasing after things that aren’t important to you, but that people tell you should be important to you.

Understanding what makes you happy.
What is it that you value? I’ve given some thought to this personally, and I include it in my vision document. Some of the things that make me happy include spending time with my family, independence and autonomy, time to read and to think, and the opportunity to learn.

Is an extra $100,000 a year worth sacrificing those things?


While the items I listed above are important to me, what is important to you may be very different. And that’s totally fine.

Some final thoughts.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote an impactful poem about Catch-22 writer, Joseph Heller. Here’s how it reads:

“Joe Heller”
True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!

A lot of people are telling you what is “important” and that you don’t have enough. How about you define what is important to you, and then inscribe that on your heart so that you will always remember it, and so that you will know when you have enough.


This content is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as personalized advice. Your unique situation needs to be considered, and the ideas presented here may not apply.

Please be sure to do your due diligence BEFORE implementing anything. Due diligence may include hiring a qualified professional who understands your situation completely and can offer you personalized advice.