"How much money do you want?"
I've asked literally thousands of people that question over the past few years, and about 90 percent of the time, I do not get a real answer.
See also: Cheap Talk With Jeff Yeager
The most common response is something along the lines of, "I want as much as I can get," or, "I want more than I have now." Then there's, "I want more than my brother/neighbor/boss/father/_____ (fill in the blank) has." Among guys, the most popular answer is, "I want more than my ex-wife has or will ever have!"
The problem with all the typical answers is that they're really non-answers. They can't be quantified or measured, and therefore can't ever be truly achieved. When it comes to a fundamental question in life—"What is enough for you?"—most people apparently don't have answers. All they know is that they always want more, more money and more stuff.
Obviously, everyone's answer to the question is different. But when you answer it for yourself, you slay your "Enoughasaurus." You've decided what "enough" is for you, and now you can plan your life and your finances around achieving your goal. It's no longer about just getting more, it's about getting enough.
Of course, you might even find that you already have enough. That's the conclusion my wife and I came to when, after only a few years of marriage, we asked ourselves, "What's enough?"
Don't get me wrong: We weren't rich then and we're not today. At the time, we were both working at modestly paid jobs in the nonprofit sector. What we realized back then was that for us, the lifestyle we were leading at that time was entirely satisfying and comfortable. We didn't want more.
That important soul-searching exercise allowed us to establish what we call a "permanent standard of living"—a lifestyle and level of spending that we continue to live with, happily, nearly 25 years later.
During the past quarter century, we've also watched as many of our peers continued to allow their lifestyles and spending to escalate to meet (and often exceed) their growing incomes.
Like most people, as we advanced in our careers, our incomes, thank the powers-that-be, grew, too. But because we slew our Enoughasauri years ago, our lifestyle has remained more or less constant. We gradually began living further and further below our means.
Living within your means is only common sense, even though it's estimated that roughly 40 percent of American households currently spend more than they earn. Once you establish a permanent standard of living at a comfortable but sustainable level, you can be on your way to true financial freedom.
By saving and investing the difference between our growing incomes and the cost of our fixed lifestyle, we were able to pay off our mortgage in 15 instead of 30 years and to essentially retire while we were still in our late 40s. This all happened without our feeling a sense of sacrifice, since we continued to live at the same comfortable-but-not-excessive level we had committed to years ago.
Enough really is enough. And deciding what "enough" is for you is the first step.
Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His Web site is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.