As a society, we tend to view financial success in rather cut and dry ways. Some of the things that we tend to get hung up on when we try for financial success include: big house, nice car, and high-paying job. But are these things that are really going to make you happy in the long run? And is success really just about the money? Before you look around at your neighbors and wonder why you don’t have the same “success,” stop and think about what would make you feel successful in your life and with your finances.
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Financial Success is More about Lifestyle than Dollar Amounts
To me, financial success is more about lifestyle than it is about a laundry list of things that you have or don’t have. I think it’s important to look at the kind of lifestyle that you want, and then base your financial decisions on whether or not they are helping you achieve that lifestyle.
If your idea of a great lifestyle is a fancy sports car, then plan accordingly. Make your lifestyle and financial decisions in a way that will help you reach that goal at some point. Really think about what you want your life to look like, and then make your plans based around your desired lifestyle.
My desired lifestyle is fairly simple. I want to be able to save up for retirement, help others, and go out to eat and travel without having to worry about pinching pennies. My husband wants to be able to buy whatever collectibles he wants without having to worry about whether or not their purchase will result in an inability to buy groceries.
As a result of our rather modest version of financial success (cover our needs and help others, prepare for the future, and be able to have some fun now), we live in a relatively small house, and we don’t buy a lot of designer clothing. We don’t have a big TV, and we don’t spend a lot of money on cable movie packages or making sure that we have the latest version of the iPhone. (We don’t even have smart phones at our house; it’s strictly pay as you go.)
Instead, we have a 50-gallon fish tank, because my husband finds it soothing. We also go out to eat when we want, and see movies on occasion. We have a rather extensive collection of Lord of the Rings action figures, and I go on a trip or two every year. That’s the lifestyle we want, and since we get to live it, we feel successful.
Money Isn’t Everything
Financial success doesn’t have to be about money, either. My husband likes teaching as an adjunct. He doesn’t make very money, but he teaches graduate classes — something he wouldn’t be able to do as the new guy in a department — and he gets to work at a university he really likes. While he would like a full-time job as a college professor, right now this works. He only goes in three days a week, and we has a reasonable degree of control over his schedule.
The money isn’t as important as the fact that he is doing something that he enjoys. I feel this as well. Sometimes it’s not about how much someone is paying me, but more about how much I like writing for the client, as well as the flexibility involved. I’ve turned down several high paying gigs in favor of gigs that I just enjoy more.
However, money isn’t the only consideration in success. What about family and friends? What about your health? Do you really need more money when you have good health and loved ones around you? Would replacing your time with your family with more work so you can earn money truly be success? For some people, it would be. And that’s fine. But I would rather have the flexibility to spend time with family and friends than worry about working more just to have a little more money.
Before you decide whether or not you are successful, take a step back. First, define your own version of success. Then see what you can do to achieve it. You might be surprised to realize that you are more successful than you think.
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.