Month: November 2014

How Much Money Do You Need?


We live in a very materialistic world. As I’ve been watching House Hunters and similar shows, I find myself amazed at what kind of money people spend on their homes, and what qualities in a home are absolutely ESSENTIAL!! They just can’t live with carpet, and can you even cook on counter tops that are not granite? Every child needs their own bedroom, plus a guestroom. And if there is only one sink in the master bath, their marriage is doomed.

These may seem like perfectly reasonable requests, and are very nice things to have. But take it from someone who grew up with carpet in the living room, vinyl counter tops, and five bedrooms for ten people: they are not essential to survive, or even have an amazing, abundant life. My parents, too, have somehow made it through 30 years of marriage with one little sink. It’s a miracle, I tell ya!

But home-buying and sorting children into bedrooms seems like a distant folktale to my husband and I. We have our little apartment, not too big, and just small enough to make us excited to have more space. When we think about what we look forward to, it’s things like a washer and dryer, a full-sized couch, and a dish washer. These are the things we know we don’t need, but really look forward to having one day, to save time (something you can’t buy), and make ourselves a little more comfortable.

It’s all a matter of perspective, they say. And I say “they” are right. For example, we often get into a discussion of money in my classes, and there is a clear disconnect between the financial world of our professors and that of the debt-laden law students. In Family Law, for example, my professor will told an anecdote about a client who made “basically nothing, you know, like $50,000.” Everyone in the class looked confused, all thinking simultaneously, “Wait, is that nothing? That is a lot more than I have. That’s a lot more than I’ve ever had. That seems like a lot. But she said it wasn’t. Should I nod in agreement?”

When you live on loans, and might make minimum wage for the 15 or 20 hours a week you work, $50,000 sounds like it could go really, really far. But from my professor’s view, you might as well have nothing. And I understand that $50,000 doesn’t go as far as it used to, but it would buy the nice groceries, an occasional outfit, and maybe even a full-sized couch.

So how much money do you really need? In this world, and in this country, there are a lot of versions of “need.” You “need” a roof over your head and food in your stomach, but you also “need” the latest fall shoes and coats. Are these both really needs? When you have very little, you think about needs a lot. You think about whether you need another vegetable in your cart, or if you need yogurt instead. You think about whether you can get those shoes through another winter, and whether you need to replace the jeans you just ripped. You also think about the things money can’t buy, but that you also need: love, fellowship, truth, and safety. In many ways, you value these things even more than the things you bought, because you can’t buy more of them if you get a raise or a new job.

I read this list recently reciting the things you should be able to buy with what you make in your 20s. Among the list are some things I certainly can’t buy, like travelling the world, and some things I wouldn’t buy, like $12 wine. But this inspired me to make my own list. This list is for myself, to always keep “needs” in persective, even if I do have money someday. And it’s also for my readers, perhaps those that have money: consider it a challenge, especially with the gimme gimme gluttony of the holidays fast-approaching, to consider what you need, what you can give, and to appreciate what you have in the first place. There are so many people in this world just making it, just squeezing by and not even sure how they did it. And there are people who make $50,000 a year, and think that is “barely anything,” perfectly justified from their perspective. They both have their challenges, their stresses: just take a moment and remember that more isn’t always better, and consider that needs aren’t always what they seem.

What do you really need?

Enough for food?

Enough for organic food?

Enough for organic, paleo-friendly, local food?

Enough to feed the neighbor downstairs?

Enough for clothes?

Enough for work-appropriate clothes?

Enough for fashionable clothes?

Enough to buy clothes for your friend?

Enough so that one spouse can stay home?

Enough so that the kids can all go to college?

Enough so that all the kids can go to private school?

Enough to homeschool?

Enough for toothpaste?

Enough for their children’s regular dentist visits?

Enough for their doctor’s fee?

Enough for their insurance payment?

Enough for their prescription copays?

Enough for a home?

Enough for separate beds for all the children?

Enough for hard-wood floors?

Enough for a formal dining room?

Enough for a backpack?

Enough for cupcakes on their child’s birthday?

Enough for an apple laptop?

Enough for a private tutor?

Enough for a game board?

Enough for a trip to the movies?

Enough for a trip to Disney world?

Enough for a trip to Europe?

Enough for gas to drive to the library?

Enough for a book?

Enough for an ipad?

Enough for an XBOX?

Enough for a bus ticket?

Enough for a used car?

Enough to lease a car?

Enough to buy a new car?

Enough to buy two new cars?

How much money do you really, really need?