Now that we Americans are taking seriously the predictions about global warming and peak oil, some of us are starting to wonder how we humans could modify our lifestyles so we can fit into our share of the "ecological footprint." Have you tried to calculate how much of the planet's resources you use by completing an online ecological footprint calculator? Don't go do that now, though, or you might just give up before starting! I completed one recently and it revealed that I alone will use the resources of 2.83 planets! That's an exercise almost as overwhelming as doing a detailed financial plan!
Let's start where we can start. We can take a closer look at how we use our own financial resources, look at our personal financial footprint. I believe we will each naturally modify our resource usage, and the cost of our lifestyle, as we begin to identify "how much is enough" in our lives and what is just clutter. Many of us are already aware of how much stress we endure every day in order to earn more and more money in order to spend more and more of it on the stuff we're supposed to want. So, instead of putting on the brakes and just going into deprivation mode, let's try to find that blissful state of sufficiency, contentment, satisfaction - ENOUGH!
The actual parameters of Enough will differ for each person. The level of money and spending required to stay in that place, however, can be determined by each of us. The exercise itself can be quite exciting and fulfilling. Here are some steps I recommend:
" Track your current spending - everything spent by check, card, or cash
" Break down the spending according to reasonable and meaningful categories
" Create a summary showing average monthly spending by category
" Add it up. Total the spending and compare it to your household income
" If spending exceeds the income, look for ways to bring that into balance.
" Watch for the ideal result with more coming in than going out and extra for a cushion or savings.
" Identify categories of spending which could be reduced and set goals for lowering your outflow over the coming months. Look for minimal-fee workshops offered by area adult education programs.
" If income is inadequate for comfortable living, get help finding ways to increase your income. Check the free workshops at www.womenworkandcommunity.org
. Don't forget to set income goals as well.
With this fabulous information, you can create a summary of "perfect" income and spending that feels like it would be Enough and set these amounts as your goals each month.
What would be Enough? I love the definition proposed in Your Money or Your Life,
by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (Penguin, 1992). Enough is: "Enough for our survival. Enough comforts. And enough little "luxuries." We have everything we need; there's nothing extra to weigh us down, distract or distress us, nothing we've bought on time, have never used and are slaving to pay off. Enough is a fearless place. A trusting place. An honest and self-observant place. It's appreciating and fully enjoying what money brings into your life and yet never purchasing anything that isn't needed and wanted."
There is a lot of pressure on us to consume more than what would meet our "Enough" standards. If we already have one gizmo, do we really need to have another one? When choosing the next gadget, how do we decide among items of differing quality? We all have "things" that, when a new version is produced, we just have to get the newest, latest, shiniest of that item? With all the market forces pushing us beyond our Enough, it will take some effort to develop our own internal yardstick.
Looking at our collection of stuff with the above definition of Enough in mind, some of the drawbacks of too much stuff become apparent. Everything we own places its own demands on us and our limited time & energy. Each thing we get requires that we must:
" Acquire it
" Learn it
" Operate it
" Store it
" Maintain it
" Fix it
" Make payments on it
" Protect it
" Feel guilty about it
" Upgrade it
" Sell it
" Dispose of it responsibly
Maybe it's time we each took stock of what we own and see what owns us! What really does fit into our lifestyle? Let's find all the aspects of our daily life that actually contribute perfectly to our "Enoughness" without weighing us down with these responsibilities. We can appreciate what fits well. And we can take steps to eliminate what is "over the top," beyond Enough, what we now know is Clutter.
LU BAUER, CPA is a money counselor and financial advisor in Brunswick, Maine. She is available for consultations (207-729-0531) with those who want to improve their relationship with money and better understand their business. Visit www.moneybalancingact.com for other articles helpful to individuals, families and owners of small businesses.