Money Doesn’t Buy Stuff. It Buys Choices.

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The casual observer might think this is a website about money.

It’s not. It’s a website about choices.

Wealth isn’t about having stuff; it’s about having opportunity. It buys the flexibility to quit jobs we hate, walk away from bad living situations, and plunge into new hobbies or projects.

How Money Buys Freedom

Most Afford Anything readers understand that wealthy people have options. But money doesn’t just buy freedom for the rich. It gives everyone choices, just to different degrees. Freedom starts with the first dollar we earn.

Searching for the Next Big Thing

We pave our future with each penny we spend. Most people will make similar selections with their first few bucks: we’ll prioritize food, water and electricity. Few would opt otherwise.

But as we climb above the poverty line, our options explode at a near-exponential rate. We can eat fruits and veggies rather than Ramen noodles. We can drive a car instead of taking the bus. We can buy new clothes instead of used threads.

Remember graduating from college? Or getting your first steady paycheck? If your experience was anything like mine, those first few months felt glorious. I could fill my gas tank, eat lunch and order prescription contact lenses without my stomach turning in knots.

After six months, I –- like most people –- adjusted to that level of spending. It became the “new normal.” At this point, I faced two choices: I could maintain my current lifestyle and save any raises and side income. Or I could get flashier.

You Could Choose to Be Trapped …

Society likes to pretend that money traps us. “Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” people say.

But money doesn’t trap us. Money sets us free.

Lifestyle inflation, on the other hand, traps us. We want to eat at posh restaurants, buy designer furniture and get haircuts at fancy salons. For a few months it’s a treat, but eventually it normalizes.

So we search for the “next big thing.” Our friends begin driving luxury cars, so we question our wheels. Our friends buy five-bedroom houses, so we question our abodes.

Our friends enter a life trapped by an endless quest for more. Sometimes, we choose to follow that path.

The result? Fewer choices. Diminished freedom. High monthly bills.

Flashy spenders don’t recognize the relationship between money and freedom. They think money is for acquiring “stuff.” They end up just as imprisoned as they were in their young, hungry days.

Choose To Be Different

The solution, though, is NOT to decry riches. It makes no sense to spend your life working while pretending money’s not important.

Money’s most significant role in our lives isn’t to buy luxury cars. It gives us independence. It allows us to quit jobs we hate, travel, and visit sick relatives across the country at a moment’s notice.

These choices don’t require millions. They just require spending a bit less than we earn, week by week.

So no, this website isn’t about money — at least not in the “pursuit of a Mercedes-Benz” sense of the word.

This website is about living on your own terms. The rest is just details.

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  1. says

    Just good common sense. I really like your blog and thank you for being there.

    Yes, money is choices, freedom, discipline for the wise. For the foolish, beer and cigs.

    • says

      Thanks Mike! Yes, a lot of money management is simply following common-sense principles. Aligning your money with your priorities will solve 80 percent of a person’s daily money problems.

  2. says

    I agree, choices is what it is all about! I always felt that savings gave me more choices. Saving and investing help me reach my financial goals very early (38 years old). I love choices!

  3. says

    What I especially like is that money = MY CHOICES. If I want to spend my money on fancy foreign cars or beer and cigs or buying investment property all that matters is that I make sure those are MY choices.

  4. says

    How we choose to spend our money is the true meaning of personal finance. I love that you showcase how to do just that-so beautifully. Money is whatever you make of it, and I hope it help others learn that it is a choice no matter if you make $100,000 or less than $40,000. Thanks for the inspiration.

    *side-note: I had to laugh, because I was in a rush last night and ended up eating Ramen for dinner (Yuck). I had a whole conversation on what the cheapest way to cook and eat them. Let’s just say it involves not cooking them, but instead, eating them raw. eww!

  5. says

    Money gives us the freedom of choice, yes. Just like the lack of money, or debt, keeps us trapped. The borrower is slave to the lender.

    By the way, I NEVER ate Ramen Noodles when I was broke or in college. I eat them now on occasion though. They’re not bad! Just had some for lunch today.

  6. says

    Well put. When you have money to buy what you need you have freedom. Today nothing gets me as annoyed as “how much can you afford a month”. A peddler say that and i walk.

  7. says

    In addition to budgeting so that you have choices, I encourage everyone to challenge that standard advice to save 15% of your income for retirement. Yes 15% is better than nothing. I’m not arguing that. There are many who spend every cent coming in and it would be a huge improvement to trim a little off the spending to get to the “standard” recommendation of 15%.
    What I’m constantly baffled by, is why people never seem to question that 15%. What is that 15% going to get you? And more importantly is it even what you want? Typically saving 15% for retirement allows you to retire comfortably at 65. Great. Now consider, if nobody said retirement should start at 65, what age would you have chosen? My bet is it would be a far lower number. Most people aim for the 15% and once they reach it, consider themselves all set and anything leftover can be spent on whatever they want. Yes that is one way to look at it. Personally I wish everyone would consider what whould happen if they saved 20% or 30% or 50%? If you really assess what you’d have to give up now in order to gain decades of freedom, would you do it? Maybe not, but at least consider the option. Maybe you can’t do 50% now, but how about 30%? At least play with the numbers and see what is possible and what you’d have to do to make it happen. If giant houses and luxury cars aren’t your thing then why not turn that to your advantage and put the equivalent away in your retirement account every month (on top of the 15% you should be doing anyway). If you decide you can cut the restaurant meals by 50% without feeling like you are suffering, then add that to the monthly savings. If you go through your regular spending and really ask yourself if each item is truly more important to your quality of life now than retiring x days/months/years earlier. If it is, then at least you know what you chose in exchange for working longer, and how much longer you had to work to have that item in your life.

    For easy numbers I assume we can easily retire (the pre-65 years with no pensions, or government benefits) on $3000/mth or $100/day. Every time I choose to save or spend $100 I know I’ve moved my retirement date by one day. Every $250/mth ($3000/yr) I managed to cut from my old spending habbits moved my retirement up by a month. Several years ago we had no official budget and an unexpected layoff resulted in panic. How long could we live on one salary, plus some unemployment funds? It forced us to quickly figure out what we’d actually been spending and assess what we could cut out immediately at least for the short term. We also considered what we could cut, if necessary for the longer term (moving to a smaller/cheaper place, selling one vehicle, etc). We hadn’t been racking up debts but we were basically spending everything not consumed by our normal spending including 15% savings. After a total review of where every cent was actually going, we were shocked to discover that our essentials (mortgage/taxes, utilities, insurance, gas, groceries) really only consumed about 55% of our combined take home pay. Clearly we’d been wasting a lot. After initially panicking we realised we’d be just fine on one salary plus unemployment benefits. The job was quickly replaced but now that the blinders were off, we never went back to our old habbits. Ever since the layoff we’ve tried to maintain 35-40% going to savings and extra mortgage payments. Before the layoff forced us to see how much we were wasting we would have said that level wasn’t possible. We’ve purposely cut everything nonessential out so that we can maximize our retirement savings, mortgage payments and indulge in our one nonfrugal treat, a trip every year. We buy used cars with cash, pack our lunches, virtually never eat out, buy second hand whenever possible, etc. We don’t feel like we’re suffering because we haven’t given up anythying important to us. On the other hand I look forward to retiring almost a decade earlier that I thought possible just a few years ago. That’s what really makes me happy. I wish that layoff had happened years earlier so we could have gotten our act together sooner. I’m so keen on early retirement that I’d like to be doing far more to move up the date. If I could get agreement from the family and downsize we could be mortgage free now and retire in 2-3 years instead of 8. Since I’m not a single person, I have to compromise and for now I’m trapped in the “big house” which really has started to feel like a prison. Since I can’t get agreement to sell it and take the equity now, I’m focusing on paying off the small remaining mortgage as quickly as possible so there is that much more equity when we finally do sell. Once the mortgage is done, we’ll redirect those funds into the retirement travel fund. I want a budget for travel that is completely independent of the savings for our living expenses. The last thing I want is the fluctuating price of gas to determine where we plan our next trip!

  8. says

    Good point! While I wouldn’t walk away from my job, even if I could afford to, having money gives me peace of mind. It also gives me the option of indulging every so often. Or, like you said, taking up new hobbies. Eventually, I might even declench enough to take a big trip somewhere! Eventually.

    • says

      @Abigail — The beauty of earning/saving money is that you can do whatever you want — anything!! — provided that you haven’t blown that money on something frivolous, thus diminishing your freedom to do something else with that money.

      If you’d prefer to stay in your job, do it. If you’d prefer to quit, do it. The key is that you have the choice to do whatever strikes your fancy.

  9. says

    I feel the same way and the reason why I still pinch pennies on things I don’t care about in order to have more options when it comes to the things I do care about. Great post Paula!

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